Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 01:14 | SYDNEY
Sunday 19 Aug 2018 | 01:14 | SYDNEY

How many guns are there in Timor-Leste?

7 November 2008 10:50

Guest blogger: Jim Della-Giacoma is an Associate Director at the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum at the Social Science Research Council in New York City.

Two weeks ago I asked, somewhat rhetorically, 'how many weapons are there in Timor-Leste?' To start to find an answer, you first have to decide whether you want to count guns or weapons. As of last week, there could indeed be fewer weapons in Timor-Leste.

On UN Day (31 October) there were some elaborate ceremonies in and around Dili as a culmination of Operation Kilat. Some thousands of traditional or craft-made weapons, known locally by the Indonesian name of rakitan, were steamrolled. Also destroyed were thousands of rounds of high-powered ammunition.

While rakitan may not be accurate or reliable, they are not harmless to either intended targets or their users, as these crudely made and mostly single shot devices (see above and below) use military-issue rifle bullets. 

New research from the AusAID-funded Timor-Leste Armed Violence Assessment project shows that Operation Halibur, which rounded up the remaining rebels involved in the attack on the President and Prime Minister, also collected some (but not all) of the modern weapons from the Timorese Government inventory lost since 2006 (see below). Curiously, they also found four bipod mounted light machine guns allegedly smuggled from Indonesia. It did not turn up the mysterious M72 grenade launcher flaunted by Alfredo Reinado. 

The weapons seized and destroyed as part of the much publicized Operation Kilat were almost all homemade rakitan, air rifles, or sharp weapons. This means they could be easily made again if tensions rose and Timorese felt they needed to arm themselves. This Issues Brief, Dealing with the Kilat, contains these facts and highlights a number of other issues. It underlines that the existing problem with modern or industrial weapons in Timor-Leste is less that they are in private hands, and more that government stocks have historically been subject to poor inventory control.

This research, from a joint project between Austcare and the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, builds on its earlier work on the draft gun law. It is not the first time that someone has tried to inventory guns in Timor-Leste, but it has pulled into the public domain some interesting and scattered data previously found only on the hard drives and filing cabinets of a few government and UN agencies.

Photos supplied unofficially to the author from sources within the Timorese security forces and UN Police.